President Obama’s visit to Japan: Respect the will of Okinawan people

On the eve of Obama’s visit to Japan on April 23-25, the Japanese media are reporting that President Obama and Prime Minister Abe plan to issue a joint statement reaffirming the alliance between the two nations.  The United States views Japan, which hosts the largest U.S. forces (about 50,000) in Asia, as a key ally in the “Pivot” to Asia (or “rebalance” in U.S. government parlance), and the Abe administration desperately seeks U.S. support in its conflict with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands while it has taken significant steps to change Japan’s peace constitution so that its “self-defense forces” can engage in combat alongside the U.S. military.

Okinawa Times, April 19, 2014


Protesters last weekend (4/19/14) mark 10 years of sustained sit-ins in Henoko, Okinawa against the construction of a US military base. (Photo:  Okinawa Times)

As the two powers across the Pacific move to further strengthen their military alliance, it is once again Okinawa, the southernmost, and the smallest and poorest, prefecture of Japan, that is forced to shoulder the burden of hosting the U.S. forces in Japan.  What this means for Okinawa is a perpetuation of U.S. and Japanese colonialisms. 

Okinawa, formerly the independent Ryukyu Kingdom before its annexation to Japan in the 1870s, constitutes only 0.6 percent of Japan’s total land area, but the prefecture, with the size of Los Angeles, is burdened with 75 percent of the U.S. military facilities in Japan. 

The 1995 abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen re-ignited Okinawan people’s long-standing opposition to the U.S. military bases.  Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, our sisters in Okinawa, played a crucial role in generating the prefecture-wide protest against the U.S. bases and acts of violence perpetrated by U.S. troops against Okinawan people.  In 1996, Okinawans’ anger and protests forced the U.S. and the Japanese governments to propose the closure of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, the largest U.S. air base in East Asia and the most dangerous in the world (as noted in 2003 by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld). 

The closure of the Futenma airfield, however, was conditioned on the construction of a replacement facility.  Despite Okinawan people’s fierce opposition to  a new U.S. base in Okinawa, the Japanese government selected Henoko in Nago City to build a new, larger, multi-use, state-of-art facility complete with two runways and naval port function to replace the outdated, inefficient, and dangerous Futenma air station.  Ignoring public opinion opposing the new base in Henoko, in December 2013 the governor of Okinawa caved in to pressure from the central government and gave the go-ahead to offshore landfill work for base construction.  But in January 2014, the citizens of Nago City rejected the new base by re-electing the incumbent mayor who ran on an anti-base platform and beat his opponent who was heavily backed by the Japanese government.  As the Ministry of Defense has begun to take steps for base construction, the Nago mayor is vowing to resist the construction in any way possible within his power. Thus, we are at a critical juncture in Okinawans’ decades-long struggle against a new base in Henoko and all U.S. bases in their home islands.

Even though a new base in Henoko had been planned years before the Obama administration’s proposed Pacific Pivot, the expansive state-of-the-art offshore facility in Henoko will be vitally important in the U.S. military’s long-term strategy in the Asia-Pacific region.

In light of these developments, we demand that the U.S. government respect the will of the Okinawan people and give up the plan to build a new military facility in Henoko to replace Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.  The majority of Okinawan people oppose the Henoko plan, and the citizens of Nago City have re-affirmed this by re-electing the anti-base mayor in January.  The long-running sit-in on Henoko beach just marked its tenth year on April 19.  Okinawan people’s will is crystal clear, and both the United States and the government of Japan should respect it. 

We strongly object to the U.S. and the Japanese governments’ rhetoric to rationalize the new base in Henoko as a measure to reduce the heavy burden on Okinawa.  How could destroying the fragile environment with its rich biodiversity by constructing a large base be a “reduction of the burden” on Okinawa?

Further, we demand that the United States return the Futenma air station to the people of Okinawa immediately without requiring a replacement facility within Okinawa or elsewhere in Japan. 

In addition to the reaffirmation of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will reportedly be mentioned in the joint statement.  We demand that the TPP be scrapped.  As the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has proven, the TPP would only benefit multinational corporations at the expense of workers, small producers and businesses in every industry, as well as consumers.  Among other issues, the TPP would seriously compromise Japan’s food safety standards, the most glaring of which would be the imposition of genetically modified seeds and foods sold by U.S.-based multinationals. Moreover, the Japanese people do not want their universal health care system destroyed by the U.S. medical, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries.  The United States should not export its profit-driven “health care” system to other countries that already have better systems in place.

Rather than an alliance between the United States and Japan based on militarism and corporate domination, we call for an alliance that will foster genuine security among all our communities.

Ayano Ginoza

Michiko Hase

Partners with Women for Genuine Security

WGS is the U.S-based partner organization in the International Women’s Network Against Militarism, a network of individuals and organizations from Guam, Hawai‘i,  Japan, Okinawa, PhilippinesPuerto Rico, South Korea and the continental United States who are organizing against the harmful effects of U.S. bases, military budgets, and military operations.


Sign the Petition: Petitioning President Barack Obama: Cancel the plan to build a new U.S. military base in Henoko, Okinawa, and return Futenma to the people of Okinawa immediately


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